The Performers for 2017

The Performers for 2017













SAM MILLS: UK (Guitar)



Christos Chalkias (vocals) was born in Berlin in 1970. He received the Byzantine Music Degree of Excellence from Macedonian Conservatory of Thessaloniki and studied oud at the Municipal Conservatory of Thessaloniki. He was a soloist and choir member of the Municipal Traditional Assembly of Thessaloniki and went on to be a cantor, first in Lagadas Cathedral and then in the Holy Church ‘Assumption of Maryin Sarasota Ekklisies-Thessaloniki. Christos was appointed professor at Athoniada Ecclesiastical Academy in 1995 where he remained until 2000 and now teaches at the Church School of Thessaloniki. He has worked with major singers of Greek folklore music and performed in concerts, with singers such as Helen Tsaligopoulou and Eleftheria Arvanitaki, in many festivals in Greece and abroad, as well as appearances on various television shows. He took part in Manos Achalinotopouloss recording ‘Hyacinth’ (Sony Classical) and was a soloist in the 2012 Byzantium and Islam exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. 

Manos Achalinotopoulos (clarinet) mixes the traditional style of playing the clarinet and its special idioms with contemporary Jazz, Balkan ethnic and other global influences. He has also studied and teaches Byzantine music. He was born and grew up in Athens and started learning the flute and clarinet from a very early age. He has performed clarinet, cawal, shawm and flutes in more than 20 countries all over the world, while participating in international concerts and festivals including the Montreux Jazz festival. As well innumerable Greek artists and composers, he has collaborated with international artists, composers, soloists and international singers such asSusheela Raman, Goran Bregovic and Xaos. Career highlights include performing at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and he has performed on over 1,000 recordings, his own include the acclaimed ‘Hyacinth’, ‘Zopirin’, and ‘Flight on Light’.

Vrujr Ananikyan first tenor
Alexander Gorbatov second tenor
Alexander Kamyshintcev baritone solo
Konstantin Senchenko bass-baritone
Bekseit Ryspaev bass profound
Doros is a polyphonic male vocal ensemble, founded in 2002 by Konstantin Senchenko in 2002. Konstantin is both Artistic Director of Doros and employed by The State Historical Museum on Red Square, Moscow, a position which gives Doros the opportunity to sing every day in the iconic St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square. Their daily repertoire at St Basils draws on Russian Orthodox Church and sacred music traditions, however the ensemble also aims to preserve all authentic vocal traditions, both religious and secular, of Russian male a cappella singing. All the members of Doros are classically trained musicians, with diplomas in music and music education, and work professionally in Russia and abroad. As well as St Basils, the group performs in France: in the Basilica of St Nazaire and St Celse, Carcassonne, and in Albi.

Haig Yazdjian (oud, vocals) is Syrian born, of Armenian origin, Greek resident and Global citizen. An oud soloist, composer and a singer,  he has performed in international concerts; festivals and tours including Spain, Scandinavia and Germany, and has collaborated with the most prominent Greek composers and singers as well as with international soloists, including recording and touring with the Canadian Diva, Loreenna McKennitt. His groundbreaking albums include Talar and Garin named after his daughters, and Beast on the Moon (2000), the stage music for Richard Kalinoskys play which brought international recognition. His recording, Amalur (‘Mother Earth) chronicles five years of travelling around the world with his band and experimenting with the electric oud. Haig tours in Greece and Europe with the same musicians with whom he began his career; they stay close to their roots, playing at least once a week in the same small den at Café Asante in Athens. 

Alexis Parharidis (vocals) was born in 1971 in Kozani Greece and is of Pontian-Greek descent, a region which is located in north central Turkey. He began singing in 1989 after being encouraged by the unforgettable Chrysanthos Theodoridis, probably the most notable Pontian-Greek traditional singer. Ever since, he has performed in festivals around Greece and abroad as well as on many folk music platforms. He has recorded six personal albums of traditional Pontian-Greek songs. In 1998 he took part in Manos Achalinotopouloss album Hyacinth and performed alongside him for the next two years. He has participated in many Greek folklore albums, either as a singer or a songwriter, mainly in the Pontian-Greek dialect which is considered to be the closest living dialect to ancient Greek. He has also participated in two modern Greek music albums alongside Alkistis Protopsalti and Sofia Papazoglou.

Samuel Yirga (piano) is from Ethiopia and after early struggles he claimed the piano for his own. Against the odds, he found his way to music school in Addis Ababa and despite still being in his 20s and only having left music school relatively recently, he developed at a pace remarkable for someone of his age. He combines contemporary and classical jazz, celebrated pop songs from the golden era of Ethiopian music, traditional Ethiopian rhythms and deeply-felt classical piano undertones to open up a whole new door on a musical genre. He plays with Addis funk band, Nubian Arc and is a member of the UK/Ethiopian collective, Dub Colossus, which has brought him wider international recognition through touring. He released his debut album Guzo in 2012, recorded in Addis Ababa and Real World Studios, and produced by Dubulah (aka Nick Page), the British musician and producer behind Transglobal Underground, Syriana and Dub Colossus.

Sousan Eskandar (Violin and Voice) was born in 1986 in Aleppo, Syria. She is the daughter of the Noury Iskandarwho was director of Music Conservatory of Aleppo and was known as a composer of Syriac music and for his work with sacral choral music Sousan learnt music from childhood and eventually studied at the High institute of Music in Damascus. Until 2012 She was performing as a violinist with the Syrian National Orchestra and with the Orchestra de L’Accademia del Maggio Musicale in Florence amongst others. Since moving to Germany she has been member of the Morgenland chamber Orchestra in Germany and is a principal musician in the Syrian Expat Orchestra who performed at Glastonbury in 2016. She recently performed at Elbphilharmonie with Yo Yo Ma .

Jehad Jazbeh was born in Aleppo Syria in 1985.  He was a member of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra and National Orchestra of Arabic Music in Damascus. Well versed in composition and improvisation, he has worked with such notable artists such as Feyrouz.  Jehad moved to Germany in 2013. As well as playing his own compositions on stages such as the Berliner Philharmonie and Konzerthaus Berlin, Jehad is a concertmaster of many orchestras and projects including the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a founding member of Damascus String Quartet which presents the work of Syrian composers.

Basilius Alawad was born in Damascus, Syria in 1994.  He studied Cello from the age of ten and went to The High Institute of Music in Damascus. He soon joined the Syrian National Orchestra. Basilius also studied traditional Syrian music and performed with many ensembles as well as recording for many film and television scores. Resident in Germany since 2014,  Basilius is a member of Syrian Expat Symphony Orchestra as well as the Nuri Eskandar Trio and The Damascus String Quartet. He recently performed at Elbphilharmonie with Yo Yo Ma.

Pirashanna Thevarajah (percussion) is a senior disciple of the mridanga vidwan, Sri. M. Balachandar. A versatile performer, he is one of the few percussionists of his generation to have command of various Indian percussion instruments including the mridangam, kanjira, ghatam and morsing; and is also proficient in the art of konnakol (Indian spoken rhythm). He has collaborated and performed with many of the worlds foremost Indian classical and contemporary musicians, such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, Dr M. Balamuralikrishna, Mandolin U. Srinivas, violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh, Gingger Shankar, Susheela Raman, Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and Karsh Kale, to name a few. His busy schedule includes performances in leading venues and festivals across Europe, India, the Middle East, USA and Canada. Pirashanna has also featured on recordings, including Concert for George and Anoushka Shankars Grammy-nominated albums Traveller and Traces of You.

Sam Mills (guitar) was born in London in 1963. He first became involved with music as part of the early 1980s post-punk experimental band 23 Skidoo, He has a PhD on The Anthropology of Religion, specifically on South Asian Sufism. He returned to music-making in the mid-90s, putting his insights into global culture. In 1997 he teamed up with Bengali singer Paban Das Baul to make a groundbreaking crossover album entitled Real Sugar for Real World Records and collaborated with Paris-based West African musicians, becoming a member of the group TAMA. He enjoys a long and fruitful collaboration with British Asian singer Susheela Raman with whom he has made seven best-selling albums, winning BBC awards and shortlisted for a Mercury prize. Their 2014 album Queen Between  featured work with Sufi Qawali signer from Pakistan and musicians from Rajasthan. He is currently working with Javanese Gamelan composer Gondrong Gunarto.    

Susheela Raman (voice) was born in London to Tamil parents in London and raised in Australia. She was trained in and performed South Indian classical music from an early age before branching into varieties of western music. Returning to live in London in 1997 she teamed up with Sam Mills to create a string of highly acclaimed albums, starting with the Mercury shortlisted Salt Rain in 2001 and most recently Queen Between in 2014. She also established


1) Konstantin Senchenko, art director, founder of Doros, born in 1967, bass – baritone singer. Graduated a Nizhny Novgorod Choral College in 1988, graduated Nizhny Novgorod Conservatoire in 1993 as an orchestra and choir conductor. In 1993-1995 did postgraduate course in orchestra and choir conducting, teaching choral conducting, history of choral art, choral singing. Founded Doros in 2002, the ensemble performed in Novodevichij Covent, Moscow in 2002 - 2012. The ensemble started performing in St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow from 2006 up to nowadays.

 2) Alexander Gorbatov, born in 1980, second tenor graduated from Nizhny Novgorod Conservatoire 2002 as a singer and choirmaster, regular singer of Doros since 2002.

3) Alexander Kamyshintcev, born in 1989, baritone solo. Laureatе of international completions in Russia and Europe. Gave more, than 500 concerts as a cellist and singer. Studied Saratov Theological Seminary. He has been performing in Doros since 2012

 4) Bekseit Ryspaev, born in 1976, bass profundo. Graduated from Saratov Conservatoire as a vocal singer in 2007, has been performing as a Doros singer since 2008



Sacred Imaginations by William Dalrymple

Sacred Imaginations by William Dalrymple

Christianity is not a Western religion. It was not founded in London, however much the Victorians liked to believe that God was an Englishman, nor in Rome, still less so in Brussels. It was born in Jerusalem and received its intellectual superstructure in the great cities of the Eastern Mediterranean: Antioch (modern Antakya in Turkey), Damascus, Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Alexandria.

What is true of the religion as a whole is especially true of its sacred music. There is firm documentary evidence that the oldest Western plainchant, that of the Church of Milan, was deliberately modelled on older Syrian practice: St Ambrose’s biographer writes that the hymns and psalms of the church of Milan ‘should be sung in the Syrian manner’ because it was so popular. This is certainly the case: there are references in the sources to bands of Syrian monks bursting into song in Haghia Sophia, astounding the Sunday congregation with their strange litanies to the crucified Christ.

Moreover the greatest of all Byzantine composers, the appropriately named St Romanos the Melodist, was a Syrian from Emesa, modern Homs, just to the south of Aleppo. His hymns and antiphons took Justinian’s Constantinople by storm, but they have been shown to be heavily indebted to those of St Ephrem of Edessa. Furthermore, St Hilary of Poitiers who first introduced the hymn to Europe likewise drew heavily on St Ephrem’s

Edessan hymns for his models – he seems to have first heard the new form when he was exiled from Gaul to Asia Minor by the Emperor Constantius. St Ephrem’s work, in turn, has affinities with certain types of very ancient Jewish synagogue chants, particularly those preserved by the Jews of the Yemen. The Eastern tradition of sacred music, in other words, takes us back to the deepest roots of Christian tradition.

These traditions have been maintained for centuries in the fortress-like monasteries of the Eastern churches, and by the Great Orthodox monastic tradition which aims at the purification of the soul through the taming of the flesh, where the material world is pulled aside like a great heavy curtain to allow man’s gaze to go straight to God. The monasteries where this spiritual warfare took place were spaces that preserved everything that had been salvaged from the wreck of classical civilisation, and so preserved the learning of antiquity from the encroaching barbarism.

It was from the Eastern Mediterranean that Christianity spread first to Armenia, Persia, India, Byzantium, Ethiopia and Russia, and only much later to Western and Northern Europe. At the Council of Nicea, where the Christian Creed was thrashed out in 325AD, there were more bishops from India and Armenia than there were from Britain, France, Spain and Germany put together.

Ethiopia, or the Axumite Kingdom, became Christian as early as the fourth century and retained a strong connection up until the 20th century to the Coptic church. Its scriptural language is Ge’ez and it has a distinctive iconographic, liturgical and musical traditions. Sixth-century St Yared is still revered as the lodestone of Ethiopian music. During the 9th and 10th centuries, Christianity also spread from Byzantium into the Balkans and eventually into Kievan Rus, leading to the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodox choral singing has roots in Byzantine music but imbibed western harmonic influences especially from the time of Peter the Great at the turn of the 18th century.

In what were once the homelands of Christianity, its great tradition of art, music and spirituality is in mortal danger. The slow and still continuing unravelling of the vast multi-ethnic multi-religious diversity of the Ottoman Empire has been the principle political fact of both the Middle East and the Balkans ever since the mid-19th century. Under the capricious thumb of the Ottoman sultans, the different faiths, tribes and ethnicities of the Ottoman empire had lived, if not in complete harmony, then at least in a kind of pluralist equilibrium: an interwoven patchwork of different communities living separately, yet side by side. But with the Ottoman retreat from the Balkans in the early 19th century, and the eventual collapse of the rest of that empire in the aftermath of the First World War, that patchwork was ripped completely apart.

Everywhere, pluralism was replaced with a ferocious polarisation. Almost all the former Ottoman lands suffered bouts of savage bloodletting, and some of these, most recently in Syria from 2011, grew into civil wars of startling violence fought along religious fault lines.In the aftermath of each of these wars, from Sarajevo to Baghdad, in dribs and drabs, and occasional tragic exoduses such as occurred with the Mosul Christians last summer, ethnic and religious minorities have fled to places where they can  be majorities: the Pontic and Smyrna Greeks to Greece; the Anatolian Armenians to Armenia; the various Jewish communities to Israel, in each case creating religious nationalisms operating in two directions. Those too few for that, such as the Chaldean Christians have tended to abandon the region altogether, seeking out places less heavy with history, such as North America or Australia. The recent Islamic State-driven exodus of the Christians of Hassake and Palmyra is only the latest chapter in a process that began with the secession of Serbia and Greece from Ottoman control in the 19th century, and the subsequent explusion of their Turkish minorities: in 1878, for example, about 130,000 Bosnia Muslims migrated from Sarajevo to areas under Ottoman control.

Islam has traditionally been tolerant of minorities: the relatively privileged treatment of Christians under Muslim rule contrasts strongly with the fate of Jews and Muslims in, say, 15th-century Spain, forced to flee or convert and even then pursued by the cruelties and tortures of the Inquisition. As M de la Motraye, a 17th-century Huguenot exile escaping religious persecution in Europe admiringly  put it, ‘there is no country on earth where the exercise of all religions is more free and less subject to being troubled, than in Turkey’. The same broad tolerance that gave homes to the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal also protected Eastern Christians.

All this came to an abrupt end after the First World War, and the establishment of a series ethno-religious Ottoman successor states like Serbia, Turkey and Israel. Here citizenship was often conflated with a religious and ethnic identity. In each of these, majoritarianism was the rule, and minorities felt increasingly unloved and unwelcome.

Today, almost everywhere, those great exoduses continue. In Egypt, the succession of revolutions and counter-revolutions have been accompanied by a series of anti-Coptic riots, killings and church burnings. In Gaza and on the West Bank, the Palestinian Christians are emigrating en masse as they find themselves uncomfortably caught between Netanyahu’s aggressively pro-Settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni neighbours.

In Syria, most of the violence has been along the Sunni-Alawite fault line, but there have been a growing number of reports of rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, who used to make up around ten percent of the population. Many have already fled for camps in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. There are tragic reports of the wholesale emigration of the ancient Armenian community of Aleppo to Yerevan.

The worst affected areas of Syria are of course those controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS). Last summer, ISIS issued a decree offering the dwindling Christian population of eastern Syria and northern Iraq three options: either convert to Islam, pay a special religious levy – jizya – or be killed. If they did not comply, ‘there is nothing to give them but the sword’. The passing of the 20th July bloody conflict led to possibly the largest exodus of Middle Eastern Christians since the Armenian massacres during  the First World War, as the entire Christian community of Mosul headed off towards Kirkuk and the relative religious tolerance of the Kurdish zone of Iraq.

Even before this latest exodus, at least two-thirds of the Iraqi Christians had already fled the country in the after the fall of Saddam in 2001. The Christians were concentrated in Mosul, Basra and especially Baghdad, which before the US invasion had the largest Christian population in the Middle East. Although the 750,000 Christians only made up about seven percent of the pre-war population, they were a prosperous minority under the Baathists, as symbolised by the high profile of Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s Christian Foreign Minister, who used to disarm visiting foreign dignitaries by breaking into ‘Onwards Christian Soldiers’ in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

According to tradition it was St Thomas and his cousin Addai who brought Christianity to Iraq in the first century. The region became a refuge for those persecuted by the Orthodox Byzantines, like the Church of the East that brought the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, as well as Greek science, medicine and music, to the Islamic world, and hence, via Cordoba, to the new universities of mediaeval Europe.

St Thomas is also supposed to have visited India. In modern Kerala there still live a people who believe that St Thomas came to India from Palestine after the Resurrection, and that he baptised their ancestors. This is not a modern tradition: it has been the firm conviction of the Christians here since at least the sixth century, and probably for centuries before that. Although the historicity of the legend is ultimately unprovable, the modern St Thomas Christians, as they still call themselves, regard this tradition as something more than a myth: for them it is an article of faith which underpins not only their religious beliefs but their whole identity and their place in Indian society. Moreover they are agreed – as, amazingly, are many of their Hindu neighbours – that St Thomas is not dead: that he is still present in Kerala, guarding over his followers and guiding his church.

Like the Christians in the Middle East, the Christians of India are living in uncertain times. Just over a decade ago, in 1999, a wave of anti-Christian violence over the border in India led to the burning down of more than 40 churches in the Dangs region of Gujerat. Social boycotts were organised against all Christian converts, and the pressure led to an estimated 2,500 reconversions back to Hinduism out of a regional Christian population of between 20-30,000. There have been more church burnings this year, and India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister has called for ‘a national debate on conversions’.

Some blame insensitive American missionaries who enrage Hindus. The National Missionary Movement of India, based in Tennessee, talks on its website of how ‘Satan has successfully camouflaged his grip on the people with a thin veneer of religion’. This sort of activity brings despair to established Indian churches. Similarly it was American foreign policy that made life impossible for many of the Arab Christians. Now, almost everywhere, Eastern Christians are leaving in the wake of the upheavals that followed 2001’s ill-judged Anglo-American adventures intended to suppress terrorism. According to the historian, Professor Kamal Salibi, this leaves the Arab world vulnerable: ‘Each time a Christian goes, no other Christian comes to fill his place,’ he told me when I went to see him in Beirut a few years ago. ‘If the Christian Arabs continue to emigrate, the Arabs will be in a much more difficult position to defend the Arab world against Islamism’.

Certainly since the 19th century, the Eastern Christians have played a vital role in defining a secular Arab cultural identity. It is no coincidence that most of the founders of secular Arab nationalism were men like Michel Aflaq, the Greek Orthodox Christian from Damascus who founded the Ba’ath Party in the 1940s, along with other Syrian students freshly returned from the Sorbonne, or Faris al-Khury, Syria’s only Christian Prime Minister. If ISIS manages to turn itself into a permanent, Christian-free Jihadistan, it may well represent the death knell not just of the Arab Christians but also of the secular Arab nationalism the Arab Christians helped create.

Despite sizeable Christian populations remaining in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, there is likely to be little place for Christian Arabs in a Middle East rebuilt on the intolerant Islamist ideology of ISIS. Instead, their future is more likely to resemble that of the most influential Christian Arab intellectual of our day, Edward Said. Born in Jerusalem at the height of Arab nationalism in 1935, Said died far from the turmoil of the Middle East in New York in 2003. His last collection of essays was appropriately entitled: Reflections On Exile. If this happens, only in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, Kerala, and Ethiopia are there likely to remain large Orthodox communities still intact in their homelands.

Hence the timely importance of Sacred Imaginations: New and Ancient Music of the Christian East. Not only does it demonstrate the incredible strength of this music and its potential for reinvention and innovation, it also showcases some superb artists drawing on traditions of great power and importance which are, in some places, under threat.

© William Dalrymple


Musicians in Thessaloniki

In March 2015, 19 musicians met in Thessaloniki, Greece to begin rehearsing Sacred Imaginations. Sam Mills (guitar) and Greek musicians Manos Achalintopoulos (clarinet) and Christos Chalkias (voice) are about to start a session.

Rehearsal notes

Rehearsal notes: the words of a Byzantine hymn are matched with the shifting fundamental tone (isokrati) held by backing singers.


Collaboration: Susheela Raman and Alexander, from Russian polyphonic vocal quintet Doros, confer during rehearsals in Thessaloniki